Lessons from a hat: Dan Fogler's Brooklyn Gladiator

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Jun 19, 2018, 9:20 PM EDT

Dan Fogler is having a moment. When he's not chewing through scenery as Jacob Kowalski in the Fantastic Beasts movies (The Crimes of Grindelwald is out this November), he's bringing a dystopian story (that's become terrifyingly plausible) to life in the pages of Brooklyn Gladiator.

Between playing around in the Wizarding World and collaborating with some of his own heroes in the graphic novel world, Fogler's like a kid in a candy store. And can you blame him?

He's found the hat that connects him to his art, and he's not letting go. Let me explain.

Brooklyn Gladiator is Fogler's own epic saga that draws on the action stories he loves and grew up on. Read through the pages of Volume 0 (out now from Chapterhouse), and you'll see definite influences from Escape from New York, Die Hard, The Running Man, Twelve Monkeys, Akira, and The Matrix.

It's 2033, and the United States is cut off from the world. All of the conspiracy theories turned out to be true. A shadow government was wagging the dog and controlling the weather. The country exists in a near-total military lockdown, but the people don't care. They're prisoners of a superdrug that keeps them docile. John Miller is here to set us all free.

"These are all dark things that play with our nightmares," Fogler concedes. "But as I got older and realized I have a voice as an actor, a writer, and a podcaster [he hosts Dan Fogler's 4D Experience], it's important to put up a mirror to society. That's our job as artists."

And sometimes when you hold up that mirror to society, the reflection you see can be distressingly familiar. "I thought, man, our current state of affairs feels a lot like science fiction. On every level, it feels like we're living in a sci-fi movie. If we're not careful, it's going to turn into Brooklyn Gladiator."


Fogler has been working on this story for years, but when events began to unfold in the real world, the parallels with his story – which had previously felt like far-out fantastic fiction – became unsettling.

"It got tricky as we got closer to the recent election. It hit close to home. I think a lot of people didn't think [Trump] was going to win, so that – to me – was sci-fi. I thought, if he won, it'd be the beginning of The Running Man or something. You know, the insane billionaire takes control of the country and then turns it into a reality show for s***s and giggles. So let's turn the dial up on that. Let's say he wins, and builds the wall, and World War III begins, and the wall just keeps getting higher and higher, and it becomes patriotic to turn over your possessions to the building of the wall. It becomes like a World War II kind of fervor."

Fantasy has slaughtered reality.

Brooklyn Gladiator Volume 0 is an introduction to that world. It is quite literally the preview book Fogler used to pitch to publishers. He sunk a large chunk of his own money into creating a tangible product he could then use to market the book.

How did it end up with Canadian publisher Chapterhouse, home of Captain Canuck? Jay Baruchel. Baruchel is the chief creative officer of Chapterhouse, and he and Fogler are long-time friends. (They were in 2009's Fanboys together.)

Fogler explains that the story was always headed to Canada. "A huge chunk of the story is [John Miller] getting out of America and finding out the rest of the world is very much mired in a very high-tech World War III that America is oblivious to but is at our doorstep."

So how big is the story he has to tell? "It's gigantic. It's epic. It's my Star Wars, man." Not only has Fogler charted out an epic saga to come, but because of the time it took to get Volume 0 published, he's had time to write sequels, prequels, and sidequels, which are also in the works. Don't let it be said that he doesn't throw himself entirely into his projects.

On screen and off, Fogler needs to become the character. Which is a lesson he learned from Robert De Niro. Early in his career, De Niro had an entire apartment of piled clothes and costumes he'd use for auditions. They helped him get into character and deliver a more convincing performance. For his part, Fogler explains, "Even if you bring in a hat, I found that when I did that, I always got the job. I don't know why I didn't do it all the time."

And there's the hat. It's the hat that connected him to Jacob Kowalski, his Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them character. "I was walking to the audition, and I looked over and saw a little thrift store. I saw this crazy patchwork hat, and I knew right away it would put me right in character. So I bought the hat. I was also wearing suspenders, because that felt like I was in character, and these cut-off Chaplin gloves.

"It was all really because I thought it would help me get into that time period. I think it paid off, even though it was totally not the right look. But I think if I had just walked in there and looked like Chewbacca, which is how I usually look, then maybe they wouldn't have been able to see past it right away.

"So every time I went back, I'd bring that stupid costume. Finally, at the final screen test, I'm working with Eddie [Redmayne], and [director] David Yates comes up and says, 'This is wonderful. But there's something I'd love you to do for me... get rid of the gloves and hat.'"

Already immersed in the character, Fogler was able to shed those bits and pieces of costume, but he couldn't put down the hat. He couldn't let it go. He kept holding on to it, just out of frame, since it connected him to the character.

Brooklyn Gladiator is the hat Dan Fogler is wearing right now. It's the story that's burning to get out of him, and it's the lesson he's trying to teach the rest of us. The book is meant to be implausible; it's not supposed to become reality. Let's make sure it doesn't.